To Good to be True

Date posted: October 6, 2010

We nearly learned the hard way that there is a lot of truth to the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!”

My wife and I recently found a used 2008 Toyota Sienna van with 23,000 miles on Craigslist for only $15,000 in Maryland!  When my wife and I saw the van it was immaculate and we fell in love with the vehicle. The owner said he had recently replaced the front driver’s side door because it had a dent in it, but no other damage. We were thrilled with the find, agreed to buy the car upon approval from our bank to finance the vehicle. With that agreement in writing, we went to our local bank, where both of us (buyer and seller) have an account and we gave the seller a cashier’s check for $5,000.  He gave us the VIN and a copy of what we thought was the title to the vehicle.

The next morning, the bank manager called me to say the VIN and title did not match the vehicle we wanted to finance. I contacted the seller to tell him the bank wanted to see the title, not a copy. Shortly after getting the title, the bank manager told me to run a CARFAX report on the VIN.  That is when we learned we were being scammed.

The CARFAX report showed us that the vehicle we had agreed to purchase was, in fact, a salvage vehicle that had been totally demolished in a crash in Georgia 18 months earlier and declared a total loss in August 2009 by the original insurance company. The car had been completely rebuilt and a salvage title had been re-issued on the vehicle by the State of Florida and the owner was a car dealership in Miami, FL!

I called the seller, told him the deal was off because the title was a salvage title and the bank would not approve the loan. As a result, I asked the seller to meet me at the bank to arrange to return the $5,000 deposit. The seller met me at the bank and signed paperwork to have a cashier’s check cut from his account to transfer funds back to my account immediately. The seller explained that he and his father worked for the car dealership in Miami and they sold cars in the DC area to members of the Hispanic community all the time this way.

After the seller departed, the bank manager told me what he was attempting to do is strictly illegal because the dealership is not licensed to sell vehicles in Maryland. So I went to the local police department and filed a complaint based upon the above information. Both the seller and his father were arrested and charged with several violations of the law. They are currently awaiting  trial.

Thank you CARFAX for keeping me from buying what could have been a nightmare vehicle!

-Russell and Joyce Haak

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